August 14, 2020

The Niche

Knoepfler lab stem cell blog

Clinic does stem cell penis injection aiming for enhancement: what’s the deal?

A stem cell penis injection?

What comes to mind first when you read that? “Ow!”

When a guy willingly has anything injected down there, maybe you’d think that there would be a compelling medical reason such as erectile dysfunction to do so as it seems risky or painful?

But the news that the publicly-traded stem cell clinic biz US Stem Cell, Inc. ($USRM) injected some guy’s penis with fat stem cells to attempt to make it bigger when the guy had no reported medical issues down there to begin with, appears to reflect a very different scenario.

One goal seems to be sexual enhancement for the guy, but is another objective here more focused on enhancement of the company?

US Stem Cell announced this stem cell penis injection via a press release in January and more recently writer Kristen V. Brown over at Gizmodo had a new article on it this past week. I’ve covered the marketing of stem cells for sexual enhancement over the years including here and here, with the later focusing on the “bigger penis” angle.

The title of the Gizmodo piece, “This Guy Injected His Dick With Stem Cells to Try to Make It Bigger”, suggests that the guy in question, fitness author and biohacker Ben Greenfield, injected the stem cells into his own penis, but that apparently is not the case as someone at US Stem Cell or an affiliate seems to have done the experimental procedure. I also wish Brown’s article had talked more about risks, but it did provide some new insights into the situation and was generally pretty balanced.

So, even if this was not DIY, why do it, especially if not to try to treat erectile dysfunction?

Greenfield was blunt in talking to Gizmodo:

“I wanted to go from good to great, and to get a bigger dick,” he told Gizmodo. “I’m not going to lie, that’s why guys without erectile dysfunction would do this.”

Greenfield has also been in some videos on YouTube discussing (and showing) stem cell injections and other DIY biohacking of various kinds. See screenshot from one above. He appears to embrace risk taking and is open to novel approaches to try to transform health. This penis stem cell thing seems like one of the more unusual cases of biohacking lately, a broader trend which has included DIY CRISPR injection, which I predicted back in late 2015.

In my view, there are some real issues here in this case including the risk of causing erectile dysfunction. Also, I wonder on another level: is this stem cell injection turning into a big PR thing for US Stem Cell? Did the company give him anything of value (even a free treatment?) for undergoing this procedure and/or publicly talking about it? Maybe not, but it’d be helpful to know. I messaged Greenfield on Twitter to ask him about this and if I get an answer I’ll do an update here.

Furthermore, in my opinion this stem cell injection by USRM for attempted enhancement is probably not FDA compliant. The use of fat stem cells may not be considered homologous use plus more importantly the FDA has indicated that fat stem cells in the form of stromal vascular fraction are generally a drug.

In fact, FDA already warned USRM/US Stem Cell Clinic last year for a variety of issues and that warning letter may have been sparked at least in part by several people losing their vision after getting an experimental injection of fat stem cells into their eyes. Does FDA care about the same company now doing penis injections with fat stem cells?

While fat stem cell injections into a penis won’t make you go blind (OK, I never thought I’d blog such a sentence), it could potentially cause serious problems even beyond the risk of infection. The most concerning risks may include damage to the nerves or blood vessels of the penis, but potential scar tissue formation from the fat stems may be more likely. “Fat stem cells” are usually a mixture of cell types including fibroblasts, a cell type that in certain conditions can generate scar tissue.

What about efficacy?  I suppose injection of fat stem cells and/or actual fat tissue into the penis could temporarily lead to a size increase. However, I’d predict that this would tend to be transient as the fat/associated cells are not supposed to be there and your body would likely remove or resorb them. In terms of just size, I’m surprised the company did not release measurements to document the claim of enhancement.

Even if it stays bigger, it might not be quite what customers imagine. A cosmetic risk would be (for lack of a better descriptor) “uneven lumpiness” as the fat/fat stem cells may not be evenly distributed or could grow in a not entirely even way.

Greenfield told Gizmodo, “Injecting his penis with stem cells, he continued, is just one way to combat the perils of modern life.”

I’d flip that around and say that injecting stem cells into a guy’s penis is itself a unique peril of modern life in the stem cell clinic world.

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